Carmel official says Brainard created ‘toxic environment’; mayor calls relationship consensual

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Carmel Clerk-Treasurer Christine Pauley has accused Mayor Jim Brainard of creating a toxic environment at City Hall after she said she turned down at least two invitations to accompany him on personal trips.

But Brainard, through a statement provided by the city’s Office of Community Relations and Economic Development, denied her accusations, saying that the two briefly dated in early 2016 and that she had asked to be invited to events he was attending. Court records show Brainard was legally separated from his wife of nearly 30 years at the time and that they divorced in 2017.

Pauley, 58, was elected the city’s clerk-treasurer in 2015 and had been supported by the mayor. But early into her term, her relationship with the mayor and city council began to sour. Now, as Carmel moves to second-class city status, her position will be eliminated and replaced with an elected clerk and a mayor-appointed controller. Pauley is not running for clerk.

On Monday, Pauley provided IBJ copies of emails she said Brainard sent her in 2016 from his personal email account inviting her to travel with him to Rome on one trip and to Wisconsin on another. Neither she nor her attorney, Tim Stoesz, provided IBJ with the original emails.

christine pauley Christine Pauley

“Mayor Brainard [used] his influence and power to create a toxic environment at City Hall with a deeper, more persistent attempt to encourage me to do things I did not want to do,” Pauley said in a statement provided to IBJ by her attorney. “Shame on him if he uses the flimsy excuse that ‘we were dating’ for his deceitful behavior. This thought resides in his head and is not true.”

According to Pauley, Brainard sent her an email on March 26, 2016, inviting her to accompany him that June on a trip to Rome, where he was a keynote speaker for an International Making Cities Livable conference.

“You know me—I don't like giving up when I get an idea so, I laid out how Rome COULD work,” he wrote. “It could be our special secret.”

He said in the email he did not plan to use taxpayer money to pay for the trip. He proposed the pair fly out of Chicago and return to work five days apart. He said nobody would find out about their trip.  

In an email response, Pauley said, “No!”

The mayor replied with, “Got it. Won’t ask again.”  

But emails provided to IBJ by the city show Pauley was initially interested in accompanying Brainard.

In February 2016, Brainard forwarded her an email inviting him to attend the conference as a keynote speaker. “This should be fun,” his note to her said.

“I would love to go!” she replied.

In another exchange provided by Pauley, the mayor invited her to a secluded lodge in the North Woods of Wisconsin. According to an email she provided, Pauley responded, "I will respectfully decline. It looks like a phenomenal vacation."

In a statement to IBJ, Brainard, 65, said he and Pauley “saw each other socially for a short time in early 2016,” after he legally separated from his wife in October 2015.

“It was a mutual and equal relationship,” Brainard said in the statement. “She repeatedly asked me to take her to events before and after the March 26th email.”  

The mayor called Pauley's timing in releasing the emails “interesting," given the primary election is about two weeks away. Brainard is challenged by Fred Glynn, a county councilor Pauley has shown support for.

Nancy Heck, director of community relations and economic development for the city, said in a statement—which was distributed by the city with Brainard's statement—that it was clear to her and others that early in Pauley's term she was pursuing the mayor “in order to get invited to events and meetings she thought were important.”

“I have worked with Mayor Brainard since 1998,” Heck said. “I have never seen anything like the fan-girling that Ms. Pauley displayed toward the mayor. … Unfortunately she caught him at a time that he was emotionally vulnerable, having separated from his wife the year prior. Fortunately, after a few months, it was clear he was being used and the relationship ended.”

She accused Pauley of sharing the emails to try to embarrass Brainard.

“It diminishes those who have truly been victims,” Heck said.

Stoesz, Pauley’s attorney, accused Brainard of attacking Pauley to divert attention away from his “questionable behavior.”

The mayor and the clerk-treasurer are separately elected officials, and neither oversees or supervises the other. The Carmel City Council approves department budgets and salaries for both the mayor and clerk-treasurer.

Infighting among city officials began in 2016, when the city council considered ordinances that would have given Brainard a 40 percent salary increase, council members a 28 percent pay hike and Carmel City Court Judge Brian Poindexter a 20 percent salary boost. Pauley’s salary would have only increased by 2 percent. In response, she claimed she was being discriminated against and accused the council of harassment.

After the accusations, the council approved a 2 percent raise for Brainard, Poindexter and Pauley, but the fiscal body gave itself a 15 percent pay increase.

In early 2017, the council voted to remove the clerk-treasurer’s dedicated speaking spot on the city council agenda and also passed an ordinance that allows the council president to determine who is allowed to sit at the front of the room with the council.

Previously, Pauley and a member of her staff sat at the dais. Now, just a member of her staff sits there. When Pauley attends meetings, she sits with the public. She may only address the council when the president grants her permission.

The fighting continues today. Last week, after Pauley fired one of her employees, the city council scheduled a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to investigate Pauley and her ability to assist the State Board of Accounts with its annual audit of the city's finances and to otherwise manage the city's accounts and financial affairs. 

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